So, Why’d You Switch Teams?

Since I started believing in Jesus, I’ve often heard this question from my Jewish friends and family.

by Rich Robinson | April 16 2024

I’m Jewish and I believe in Jesus. I’ve often been asked, “So … why’d you switch teams? You belonged to the Jewish people; you had a great thing going for you. So why did you go over to the ‘other side’: the side of the Christians, the non-Jews, with their goyische lives, their goyische kups,1 and their history of persecuting our people? What kind of self-hating Jew are you, anyway?”

We Are Not Them

We Jews have had a tough time defining who we are. Jewish writers have variously defined us as a nation, a people, a religion, an ethnic group, a combination of one or more—or have simply left the essence of Jewishness a mystery. Sometimes it’s said that we are far better at knowing who we are not than who we are—we are not them.

Although we can’t always give a dictionary definition of Jewish, we live in a common matrix.

Whatever Jewishness is, we know that we share a history, a religious tradition, a modern state (Israel), and a status among non-Jews that is always in danger of eliciting acts of antisemitism. Although we can’t always give a dictionary definition of Jewish, we live in a common matrix.

But when a Jewish person comes to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, well, in many Jewish eyes, they’ve left the sea for the land. Unlike with the theory of evolution, that’s not seen as something positive.

Yet as a Jewish follower of Jesus, I still share the same history, which we recount each year at Passover. I’ll never forget the Reform congregation where I had my bar mitzvah: Temple Emanu-El of Canarsie in Brooklyn, New York. I’ve been to Israel and have family there. Though like many American Jews of my generation, I grew up experiencing little, if any, overt antisemitism. But in the current climate, I may well end up being on the receiving end of the increasingly growing epidemic of antisemitic acts.

But Didn’t I Switch Teams?

“Where do you worship?” I’ve been asked. “Synagogue or church?”

The answer is both, as well as at “Messianic congregations,” which express faith in Jesus in Jewish cultural terms.

The first church I ever attended met in the living room of a man named Koshy, who was the international chaplain at Syracuse University and was from India. When I was in Hillel there, I attended some services even as a follower of Jesus. And later on, for many years, I worshipped at a Messianic congregation called Tiferet Israel in San Francisco that met on Friday evenings and incorporated many traditional synagogue components into the worship. More recently, I have Zoomed in to watch the High Holiday services at the Stephen Wise Temple in Los Angeles and at the Park Avenue Synagogue in New York City.

The truth is, most synagogues today are missing a key component of my faith, namely Jesus the Messiah. And in San Francisco, where I currently live, they are often not even that traditional. And I do like traditions.

“Well, churches are where the goyim worship. So if you’re at a church, then you’ve joined the goyim, right?”

While Jesus came for us Jews, he also came to bring the nations to the God of Israel.

It’s true that most churches are largely non-Jewish. But from the standpoint of the Bible, that’s to be expected. One of the reasons we Jews are called the “chosen people” is to point the nations—the Gentiles—to faith in the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. I believe that while Jesus came for us Jews and to us Jews, he also came to bring the nations of the world to faith in the God of Israel. I have not joined a Gentile movement; as counterintuitive as it sounds, Gentiles who believe in Jesus have joined a Jewish movement.

The New Testament describes Jesus as “a light for revelation to the Gentiles [nations], and for glory to your people Israel” (Luke 2:32, italics added). This echoes the prophet Isaiah from the Jewish Bible speaking of the nation of Israel: “I will give you as a covenant for the people, a light for the nations” (Isaiah 42:6).

And of course, there are more Gentiles than Jews in the world, so is it any wonder that most churches are made up mostly of Gentiles? What encourages me is that many churches have recently taken a deep interest in learning about the essential Jewishness of their faith.

“But if you believe in Jesus, then don’t you believe in all those weird non-Jewish ideas like the Trinity and the incarnation and the virgin birth?”

I believe in those “weird” ideas because I see them in the Scriptures, but I also believe they were and are essentially Jewish. And I’m not alone in seeing it that way.

Some Jewish writers agree—not necessarily that Jesus is the Messiah—but that many of the core Christian ideas are Jewish. For example, Benjamin Sommer from Jewish Theological Seminary in New York City (the training school for Conservative Jewish rabbis in America) had this to say in a book published in 2009:

Some Jews regard Christianity’s claim to be a monotheistic religion with grave suspicion, both because of the doctrine of the trinity (how can three equal one?) and because of Christianity’s core belief that God took bodily form. What I have attempted to point out here is that biblical Israel knew very similar doctrines, and these doctrines did not disappear from Judaism after the biblical period…. The only significant theological difference between Judaism and Christianity lies not in the trinity or in the incarnation but in Christianity’s revival of the notion of a dying and rising God, a category ancient Israel clearly rejects.2

Inclusion or Exclusion?

Modern Christians have been accused of being intolerant. Sadly, in some cases that is true.

“So, why’d you switch to the team that stifles thought and thinks it has a corner on the truth to the exclusion of everyone else?”

My faith teaches me to ask questions, to challenge ideas, and to include the outsider.

Truth be told, there are Jews and Christians both who discourage questions and have a mindset that excludes “the other.” My faith teaches me to ask questions, to challenge ideas, and to include the outsider. After all, the book of James in the New Testament—a kind of summary of Jewish ethics—has this to say:

My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Messiah Yeshua, the Lord of glory. For if a man wearing a gold ring and fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, and if you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, “You sit here in a good place,” while you say to the poor man, “You stand over there,” or, “Sit down at my feet,” have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? (James 2:1–4)3

At a table of true Jesus-followers, there’s a seat for all of us. At the same time, my faith also tells me that there are answers, that there are certain things that are true for all people, and that we can know truth as far as a finite human being can know anything.

The Bottom Line

So, to answer that often-asked question: I never “switched teams.” The word Christian means a “follower of Jesus,” regardless of whether someone is Jewish or Gentile. I’ve called myself a Christian, a Jewish Christian, a Messianic Jew, and a Jewish believer in Jesus. The main thing is that I never left the Jewish people for an alien group. After all, with other Jews, I share—and enjoy, and celebrate, and identify with—our history, our traditions, our Land, and our outsider status among the nations of the world.

What’s more, the label of the student is not as important as the identity of the teacher. I’ve discovered the Jewishness of faith in Jesus: a faith that encourages asking questions but grounds the answers in what God has done and will do for us through the Messiah.

If I sometimes seem surrounded by non-Jews, it is only because they too have come to faith in the God of Israel. True, Gentile Christians express their faith according to their own cultural lights and Jewish followers of Jesus according to theirs. But the pull of our mutual faith is strong enough to unite any two people groups, even Jew and Gentile (Ephesians 2:14).

Now that’s a team worth being on!



1. Goyische means “Gentile.” A goyische kup is a “Gentile head,” implying that someone is thinking like a non-Jew.

2. Benjamin D. Sommer, The Bodies of God and the World of Ancient Israel (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2009), 135–136, italics added.

3. The translation is adapted from the English Standard Version; the original text reads, “our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory.”